Originally created 05/18/99

Judge denies new trial



A former Augustan who was spared a death sentence in 1993, when he was convicted of robbing and murdering two people, lost his first appeal step Monday.

Ed Lee Chapman, 26, is appealing his Richmond County Superior Court convictions for the Feb. 19, 1991, armed robbery and murders of Ruby Wong, 79, and her son Philip Wong, 60, at the family's grocery store.

Mr. Chapman is serving three consecutive life sentences. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against him.

"All Mr. (Michael) Garrett did ineffectively was to save his life," Judge Albert M. Pickett said during a hearing Monday.

As part of his motion for a new trial, Mr. Chapman insisted that his appointed appellate lawyer, Ron Garnett, challenge the effectiveness of his trial counsel, Mr. Garrett and George Snelling.

Mr. Garrett testified that the defense team and Mr. Chapman disagreed about trial strategy at first. But they convinced him that if they followed his idea, the jury not only would convict him but would hold it against Mr. Chapman during the sentencing phase, Mr. Garrett said.

Mr. Chapman wanted to pursue an innocence defense. Mr. Garrett said that went totally against the evidence: Investigators had two tape-recorded confessions from him; Mr. Chapman was shot during the robbery and left a blood trail that police followed directly to him from K.F. Wong Grocery; witnesses identified Mr. Chapman as the man running from the store with Mr. Wong in pursuit; and inside Mr. Chapman's jacket pockets investigators found cash and checks made out to Wong Grocery.

The attorneys convinced Mr. Chapman the better defense was to present evidence that the jury could consider in mitigation -- evidence which might lead the jury to vote for a life sentence instead of the death penalty.

Mr. Chapman testified Monday that he disagreed with his attorneys, and he alleged they failed to investigate the case properly and failed to challenge the legality of evidence used against him.

Judge Pickett denied the motion for a new trial on all grounds. The next step is an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The February 1991 robbery netted Mr. Chapman $44 and checks. Mr. Wong, who was shot in the stomach, died a day after the robbery. His mother, shot in the arm and head, died at the scene -- the Wrightsboro Road grocery she had operated with her husband since 1926.

Sandy Hodson covers courts for The Augusta Chronicle. She may be reached at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.